BLACK VOICES
06/20/2016 01:34 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2016

What Zoe Saldana Still Doesn't Get About The 'Nina' Controversy

The criticism wasn't a challenge to Saldana's blackness, but to an industry that constantly ignores women who look like Nina Simone.
"There's no one way to be black," says Saldana.
Carlo Allegri / Reuters
"There's no one way to be black," says Saldana.

Zoe Saldana wants us all to move on from the controversy surrounding the movie "Nina," but she's made it a bit difficult with her latest comments.

The film, released in April, has faced criticism ever since Saldana was chosen to star as the iconic singer Nina Simone back in 2012. 

Many people took issue with a light-skinned black woman donning blackface and a prosthetic nose to play the dark-skinned, pro-black and deeply political Simone. Even Simone's estate shared its disapproval of the casting choice

Saldana has defended taking the role throughout the film's rocky production history, and now that the film has finally been released (to largely negative reviews), the actress still doesn't seem to have internalized some of the valid criticisms of the movie and her casting in the title role.

In an interview for the July issue of Allure, Saldana's latest response to the criticism from many that she shouldn't have taken the role was: "There's no one way to be black. I'm black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I'm raising black men. Don't you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain."

Saldana goes on to suggest that the fact that people were offended by her playing Simone is, in itself, offensive. She believes the insinuation is that she is "too pretty" to play Simone, meaning what people are really saying is that Simone was not.  

"I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family," Saldana told the magazine. "But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?"

Saldana as she appeared in "Nina," with darkened skin, a prosthetic nose, and enlarged lips. 
YouTube
Saldana as she appeared in "Nina," with darkened skin, a prosthetic nose, and enlarged lips. 

And yet, the outrage over Saldana's casting was not about her being too attractive to play Simone -- that's a conclusion the actress seems to have come to by herself. Instead, the issues many people had with the movie included the fact that it was written, directed, and largely produced by a white team who didn't seem to understand the nuances of colorism in the black community, and how colorism played into Saldana's casting.

In a Hollywood landscape where lighter-skinned black women are generally more successful than darker ones, Saldana's casting stood as a reminder that in Hollywood, dark-skinned black women are not even deemed good enough to play themselves on screen. 

This is what Saldana has consistently failed to understand about the outcry over her casting: The criticism wasn't a challenge to her blackness or her talent. It was a challenge to an industry that constantly ignores black women who look like Nina Simone. 

The criticism wasn’t a challenge to her blackness or her talent. It was a challenge to an industry that constantly ignores black women who look like Nina Simone.

The frustrating thing is while Saldana seems to believe the criticism was all about her not being "black enough" to play the role, she also recognizes that there's a lack of black female representation in Hollywood. Saldana, at the very least, seems to grasp that disparity. She says that's why she took the role, because if she hadn't, the script would still "be lying around, going from office to office." "Nobody would have done it," the actress told Allure. "Female stories aren't relevant enough, especially a black female story." 

And because of the lack of black female stories on screen, Saldana ultimately stands by her choice, and hopes that at the very least her taking on the role will inspire other filmmakers to "do it better."

"Let ours be version number one of ten stories in the next ten years about the f***ing iconic person that was Nina Simone."

It's a nice sentiment, but it remains to be seen if "Nina" is truly the catalyst for change that Saldana hopes it will be. 

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